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Today’s agency leaders are challenged to be faster, more efficient, and more sophisticated—potentially with fewer resources. With the recent release of the Administration’s overarching plan for government reform, the pressure continues to grow.
While this environment can be a source of frustration, it’s actually one ripe for innovation because with pressure comes possibility. It’s precisely in this moment of reorganization that leaders should seek opportunities to embed innovation into the employee culture.
Before we review our advice for how leaders can do this, let’s be clear about what innovation isn’t, because many people get stuck right there. Innovation is not:
Looking at our most successful clients, it’s clear that innovation is a cultural mindset—an embedded tolerance to push boundaries, experience setbacks, and apply lessons for the next uphill climb.
So if innovation is a fundamental willingness to evolve, where do you start?
This summer, we teamed with the Partnership for Public Service to host a roundtable session where 23 senior government executives unpacked this thorny concept of innovation. Participants representing 12 different departments and agencies engaged in dynamic problem-solving exercises on topics such as incentivizing innovation, piloting ideas, collaborating across government, and sustaining success.
Attendees sat in on a panel with government leaders who shared their own personal experiences when pushing for innovation, and who offered the following advice for others in the same situation:
We know that risk taking does not come naturally to the Federal Government. But to drive meaningful change, agency leaders must make it clear that innovation at all levels—and even a healthy amount of failure—is strongly encouraged to better achieve the mission of serving citizens.
“It’s clear that innovation is a cultural mindset—an embedded tolerance to push boundaries, experience setbacks, and apply lessons for the next uphill climb.”
At Booz Allen, we've addressed similar challenges. A few years ago, we knew we needed to hire new and different skill sets, and take more risks to meet our mission. At the most basic level we developed our Innovation Center, a “safe” collaboration space designed to make day-to-day operations much different for employees tasked with some of our most forward-thinking projects.
As a reminder that failure is part of the journey to success, our first chief innovation officer gave out “get out of jail free” cards, encouraging employees to embrace mistakes during their time at the Innovation Center. This increased tolerance for trial and error helped transform our culture.
There’s no question that government employees want to innovate: 91 percent of employees who took the Federal Viewpoint Survey reported “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better.” The trick is helping leaders recognize great ideas and find ways to act on the best ones. If you don’t experience failures as a government leader, it likely means you’re not taking the risks necessary to advance the mission that brought you here.
For more on this topic, watch Ben, Nyla Beth, and Meroe Park from the Partnership for Public Service, discuss innovation in government.